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Japanese credit-card firm JCB International eyes GMS expansion from Thai base

Naoya Michishima

Naoya Michishima

Japan-based credit-card provider JCB International has set its sights on expanding its business in the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) by seeking more financial-institution partners and offering proactive marketing as a key strategy to drive the card base.

The company has assigned JCB International (Thailand) to be the centre of operations to oversee the GMS countries of Myanmar, Vietnam, Laos and Thailand, plus the Nepal and Bhutan markets.

JCB International currently issues its credit cards in 17 countries, with a combined total of 84 million cards.

Managing director Naoya Michishima, who was tipped for the top position at the Thai unit in April, said the GMS had become more of a focus for the group due to its population size and growing economic strength.

Other markets in which JCB International has a footprint in East Asia have reached a stage of mature growth, he said.

Among the GMS countries targeted, Thailand is the key focus because consumers are already familiar with using credit cards, as shown by the fact that there are some 19 million cards nationwide.

JCB International sees room for growth in the Kingdom, as more Thais travel to Japan and the two countries have a good relationship, he said, adding that the local focus would be on the Japanese tourism and dining categories.

Meanwhile, Vietnam and Laos have begun to develop credit-card business, while Myanmar is in the process of reforming its financial system.

JCB International has six bank partners in Vietnam, via which it has issued around 200,000 cards.

Phongsavanh Bank is its current partner in Laos, and the company is in talks with another local bank in the country to jointly issue credit cards.

JCB aims to penetrate Myanmar next year by joining with local banks to issue debit cards, he added.

In Thailand, where JCB International (Thailand) was established in 2000, JCB has two financial partners: AEON Thana Sinsap (Thailand) and Krungthai Card (KTC). More than 200,0000 cards have been issued, of which 95,000 are KTC-JCB credit cards and the rest are AEON-JCB cards.

JCB targets issuing 100,000 new credit cards in Thailand this year with these two partners.

Michishima said that having more regional partners would enable the group to expand its customer base via proactive marketing, and that JCB hoped to have more Thai financial institutions as partners in the near future.

The local unit designs its own proactive marketing to run alongside the promotions of its current Thai partners, because JCB wants to reinforce its status of being the card that offers the most benefits. This will help it take market share from other global credit-card payment providers, he explained.

The mid-to-high segment with monthly income of at least Bt30,000 is the company's main target for its own cards in Thailand, due to the generally healthy spending by that category of cardholder.

KTC-JCB cardholders, meanwhile, have average monthly spending of Bt13,000.

The new head of the local subsidiary acknowledges, however, that competition in the credit-card business in Thailand is intense, and that JCB lags behind other card providers.

The Kingdom presents a challenge as there are many credit-card operators and users have high expectations concerning the promotions of card providers, he said.

"Thailand, unlike Vietnam, Laos or Myanmar, which are emerging markets for credit cards, is a place where all credit-card providers have an equal chance," he added.


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